From Richie Murray
(April 26, 2022) — Just a few short years ago, Joe Axsom got his chance behind the wheel of Gene Nolen’s USAC Silver Crown car, making eight series starts on the pavement between 2015 and 2017.
Now, just a few short years later, the next generation of Axsom and Nolen are going USAC Silver Crown racing themselves as their sons, driver Emerson Axsom and team owner Greg Nolen, will make their debut with the iconic yellow number 20 in the series’ season opener this Sunday, May 1, the Sumar Classic at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track.
The team’s initial plan is to compete on the dirt at Terre Haute, and on the miles of the Illinois State Fairgrounds on August 20 and at the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds on September 3, marking the return of the Greenwood, Indiana-based team which has been a fixture with the series for the majority of the time since the time the surname Nolen first appeared in the in the 1989 standings.
For Axsom, a two-time feature winner in both the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship and USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship at press time, Sunday will mark his first foray in the big cars.
However, it won’t be Emerson’s first tango with the Nolen Racing team as he made three 125-lap pavement sprint car starts with them at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway in 2021, finishing 4th, 4th and 6th. Additionally, during his father’s time driving for Nolen, starting as a 10-year-old, Emerson spent time around the shop and the cars dreaming of a day he’d have the chance to pilot one of these behemoths. Years later, everything’s come full circle and Emerson now has his very own shot to drive the Nolen champ car.
“I’m pumped,” Emerson exclaimed. “I’ve been a big fan of the crown cars for a while. I’ve been around Silver Crown racing, and I kind of grew up around the Nolen shop when my dad ran for Gene Nolen. My dad always said to show your face and maybe something will come of it one day. He learned as much as he could about the racecars while driving for them, what they needed to be fast and how to work on them, and if an opportunity for me ever came, he’d be able to make sure I’d have the best opportunity to win. I’m super thankful for this opportunity and I’m ready to get in a crown car this weekend.”
Gene Nolen was the eighth winningest car owner in USAC Silver Crown history at the time of his death in April of 2020. His son Greg spent many of those years alongside the team in the 1990s as a crewman until school and business took him in his own direction. From his standpoint, when he and the crew roll the car out of the trailer and it hits the track on Sunday, it’s going to be an emotional experience.
“It’s going to be very special,” Greg anticipates. “There’s been a lot of years with that yellow number 20 and it’s just amazing that we’re going to get a chance to run a few races this year and get it back out in memory of dad.”
Greg is particularly excited about the prospects of having 17-year-old Emerson in the seat, who he considers a natural in the racecar. Although Greg has set his expectations for Sunday’s debut as a learning experience, he certainly won’t be surprised it they’re running near the front at the end of 100 laps.
“My dad would’ve been really excited about Emerson,” Greg stated. “Emerson is a very levelheaded kid, and mature way beyond his age. I think anytime he gets in a car, he’s capable of winning the race. It’s going to be exciting to see what he can do, but we’re going this first time out just to learn. With that said, he’s a quick learner and, anytime he’s in a car, I wouldn’t rule him out, that’s for sure.”
There’s no lack of confidence from Greg, and Emerson certainly feels the same way. After all, Emerson’s track record thus far has proven it. After substantial success in micro sprints, he prospered immediately in midgets. He followed that with near instantaneous sensational performance in sprint cars. Now he plans on following the same track of progression in the Silver Crown car, and looks forward to the challenges that it brings with its longer races and the adaptation to a slightly different approach.
“Just the big heavy nature of a crown car is going to be the challenge,” Emerson noted. “But I feel like I’ve adapted really well from the midget to the sprint car. Obviously, a sprint car is a lot bigger than a midget and a crown car is a lot bigger than a sprint car. I think it’ll just be a little bit slower motion version of a sprint car. When I ran the pavement sprint car, those were 125-lappers. You had to save your tires and be smart there. I think it’ll be a similar racing style to that.”
The yellow number 20 has been around in some form or fashion on the USAC circuit since the 1970s between Glen Niebel and Gene Nolen, spanning generation after generation who’ve gotten to witness its everlasting success in USAC racing. Now, it’s time for the next generation of Axsom and Nolen to make their mark with the series, and same as the yellow number 20, everything seems to come full circle.
Emerson Axsom, Greg Nolen and their Driven2SaveLives – KECO Coatings – Goodridge – K & N Filters sponsored machine will be on track this Sunday, May 1, at the Terre Haute Action Track in western Indiana.
Pits open at 1pm Eastern with the front gates opening at 2pm, the drivers meeting at 4pm and practice beginning at 5pm, followed by Fatheadz Qualifying, the last chance qualifying race and the 100-lap Sumar Classic feature event.
Tickets are $30 for the grandstands, $20 for the infield and $35 for the pits. Kids age 10 and under are free!
The 19th running of the Sumar Classic can be watched live and on-demand on FloRacing at https://bit.ly/3u7ID2N.